Arts

Aslan's Christy Dignam on best-selling autobiography, battling cancer and how Teenage Kicks helped inspire his musical career

Singer, songwriter and best-selling author with the hit autobiography My Crazy World, Aslan frontman Christy Dignam is fighting an ongoing battle against two forms of cancer. The Finglas-born star chats to David Roy about the impact of the book and how his 'unplugged' Songs & Stories shows have helped him recover from debilitating chemotherapy

Aslan man Christy Dignam in action. Picture by Philip Walsh

ASLAN frontman Christy Dignam is not a man who enjoys having to cancel a show – however, when the singer's 'unplugged' Songs & Stories show at Dongahmore's Bardic Theatre clashed with the An Post Irish Book Awards last month, something had to give.

Christy (59) pulled few punches in his autobiography My Crazy World, which was nominated for Popular Non-Fiction Book of The Year. With its title inspired by Aslan's signature 1994 hit, Crazy World, fans devoured the Finglas man's full and often shockingly frank account of his extraordinary life in which the highs of musical success and the joy of starting a family with wife Kathryn – their daughter Kiera, who starred on the cover of Aslan's 1988 debut LP Feel No Shame and now has her own musical career – are countered by the devastating lows of childhood sexual abuse, crippling heroin addiction and Christy's ongoing battle with illness after being diagnosed with two forms of blood cancer in 2013.

Ultimately, My Crazy World didn't win on the night – but the Dublin man didn't write the book to win awards: rather, he hoped his often horrific tale might help others, as well as himself.

"To be honest with you, in my wildest expectations I wasn't expecting it to be as successful as it was," admits the Aslan frontman, who rescheduled his Co Tyrone show with Aslan guitarist/singer Joe Jewell so that he and Kathryn could attend the awards ceremony.

"It was hard to dredge it all back up, especially the sexual abuse and all that stuff, but at the same time it was really cathartic as well. And the outpouring of love has been amazing."

However, it seems some people have questioned how Christy chose to handle his revelations about being sexually abused by a neighbour and a friend's older brother.

"I've had people coming up to me saying 'why did you never get your man prosecuted? If he's out there molesting other kids, that's your f***in' fault'," he explains.

"That nearly broke my f***in' heart, y'know?"

2013's devastating cancer diagnosis led to Christy undergoing chemotherapy, which affected his memory to the extent that he could no longer remember the words to Aslan favourites like Crazy World, This Is and Where's The Sun?

"When I came out of hospital after my first bout of chemo, my daughter was doing a gig and somebody asked me to get up," he explains.

"I got up to do Crazy World and forgot loads of words in it. Then, when I tried to sing other Aslan songs, I wouldn't know what the first verse or the second verse was, I'd get them all mushed up. Those were songs I could have done in my sleep, but I couldn't remember the words."

Determined to get back on the stage, he hit upon the idea of 'revising' for the next chapter of his musical career by doing acoustic shows with Aslan guitar man Joe Jewell.

"I had the lyric sheets in front of me and we were talking about the songs and I was explaining to people why we were doing it – which was really to relearn all the songs. And it also kind of gave me an opportunity to meet people and stuff like that."

The idea worked, but the more intimate format also proved highly enjoyable for the pair, after years of rabble-rousing much larger venues – such as Aslan's recent shows at Dublin's Iveagh Gardens and Cork's Live At The Marquee.

"We were doing it mostly in theatres and stuff, so we were getting a different audience from what would normally come to an Aslan gig, y'know?," says Christy.

"Like, Aslan is great for what it is, but it's very bombastic – whereas I like the intimacy of the Songs & Stories gigs."

Happily, the good people of Donaghmore will finally get their Songs & Stories show at the Bardic Theatre on December 19 – and Aslan will round off 2019 with a pair of Vicar Street dates on December 27 and 29 celebrating 25 years of their 1994 LP Goodbye Charlie Moonhead.

2020 will feature recording sessions for a brand new Aslan album along with yet more live dates including shows at Derry's Millennium Forum on January 24, The Black Box in Belfast on April 25 and Downpatrick's Teconnaught Festival on June 26.

With his ongoing illness a constant consideration, Christy might not be as lively a frontman as he once was during Aslan's heyday – however, he still gives it his all.

"Adrenaline gets me through the gigs," the singer explains, "but once it kicks in, you can forget [that you're ill] – and then that's you boll***d. So I wouldn't be jumping all over the place now.

"Before, I would have been climbing up on PA stacks and that. But I'm not a spring chicken any more. I don't know how Mick Jagger does it, man – he's incredible. I read somewhere that he runs something like eight kilometres during a gig. For a man in his 70s, that's serious.

Christy continues: "I love the Stones – to me, they are a true rock and roll band. And there's not many left. Y'know, like bands your parents wouldn't encourage you to listen to. To me, Liam Gallagher is a proper rock star. You shouldn't be all PC like the guy [Chris Martin] out of Coldplay. Rock and roll should be about questioning authority."

It seems that such thinking helped set the young Christy Dignam on his musical path. Despite having idolised the likes of Pink Floyd and David Bowie – whom Aslan would go on to support at Slane in 1987 – he admits to never considering a life in music until the chart-busting success of Black Country glam stompers Slade presented it as a possibility just prior to the Sex Pistols-led punk explosion making rock accessible again.

"I used to think people like David Bowie had this kind of God-given anointment to become rock stars," Christy explains.

"When a friend told me Slade were from a real working class area that was a bit like Finglas, for some reason that was an epiphany to me. From that moment on, all I wanted to do was to be a singer in a band.

"Then when punk came, it put prog rock out the window: now you could just pick up a guitar and get out there, and the songs didn't have to be big epic stories to be great – just look at The Undertones' Teenage Kicks.

"For some reason, the north of Ireland really identified with the punk ethos. I was into bands like Rudi and The Outcasts and there was a lot of great punk rock bands coming down from the north to play places like The Dandelion Market near Stephen's Green.

"That was another epiphany – it was then I thought, 'we can do this'."

:: Christy Dignam and Joe Jewell: Songs & Stories, Thursday December 19, Bardic Theatre, Donaghmore. Tickets and Aslan info via Aslan.ie

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